Reduce the Risk of Ski & Snowboard Injuries
Grace Weatherby
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2024

Reduce the Risk of Ski & Snowboard Injuries

While skiing and snowboarding are enjoyed on the same slopes, the nature of common injuries differs due to the position of your body and how firmly you are—or are not—attached to your equipment.

Here’s a look at some of the most common injuries that occur in both sports.

Common ski injuries

· Tears to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), medial collateral ligament (MCL), or meniscus

· Broken collarbones or ribs

· Injuries to the ligaments of the wrist and hands

Common snowboarding injuries

· Wrist fractures

· Strained ligaments on the outside of the talus bone (a.k.a. snowboarder's ankle)

There’s no way to prevent the possibility of all injuries while skiing and boarding, but there are things you can do to minimize your risk. These include:

Wear sport-specific protective gear. The most important piece of gear is, of course, a helmet. Head injuries are a leading cause of death in both skiing and snowboarding.

As for protecting other body parts, make sure your gear fits you properly. If you’re not sure, ask for help in a pro or rental shop. In addition to your helmet and sunglasses or goggles, protective wrist guards with places on the front and back of the hand, elbow guards, and knee pads are also recommended.

For serious enthusiasts who like to push the limits, you may want to invest in a back guard to protect your spine from hard falls.

Speaking of falling…

Learn how to fall. Although falling is never the goal in skiing or snowboarding, it’s worth learning how to fall safely and to practice.

To begin with, when you feel yourself beginning to fall, crouch down to minimize the distance between you and the ground and lessen the impact.

If you don’t have time to do that, resist the temptation to try and catch yourself with your hand which can lead to broken bones in your wrist or arms, or torn ligaments in your hands. Bring your arms in close to your body and close your hands into fist. Try to fall so that your bottom, hips or shoulders absorb the impact. If you’re falling straight forward, try to position your forearms so they take the blow rather than your hands or elbows.

This next tip is counterintuitive but when you feel yourself about to fall, try not to tense up. Keeping your muscles relaxed and loose will help minimize risk of injury.

If you find yourself sliding, don’t try to use your board and skis as brakes. Catching an edge is an easy way to torque your knee or twist your leg as your lower body stops and your upper body continues sliding. If you’re not sliding toward a lift tower, trees, or dangerous terrain, try to lift your board or skis off the ground and allow yourself to slide to a stop.

Stretch before hitting the slopes. Before you jump on the lift, take 10 minutes to ready your muscles for what lies ahead through a series of simple stretches. Try this three-position dynamic stretch that fires up and lengthens the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and core—the major muscles used in skiing and riding. Pro Tip: use these same stretches to help with muscle recovery at the end of the day.  

Again, it’s impossible to prevent all injuries. In the event that you do take a tumble, the first thing to do is determine how bad the situation is. If you’re in severe pain, unable to move or are experiencing numbness, seek immediate medical attention from the ski patrol. If things aren’t that grim, but you’re not ready to navigate down the hill, use the snow around you to create an ice pack on the injured area and leave in place for 10-20 minutes. If you can manage to get down the slope safely, do so and apply ice for 10-20 minutes and elevate the injured area. You may need to repeat icing and elevation for several days or even weeks until your body heals. If your injury doesn’t heal within three weeks you should make an appointment to see an orthopedist who can assess the damage and recommend treatment.


Patrick Deedy, MS, LAT, ATC is a certified athletic trainer with Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.

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